Smart business travelers know how to save money even when fuel costs spike. They do it because they don't assume anything.
The only thing that's safe to assume is that the face of travel is changing everywhere and all the time. For example, conventional wisdom says the major airlines are at a disadvantage when it comes to rising fuel prices. Reflexively, the "smart" business traveler might assume that a low-cost carrier (LCC) is the way to go.
The only problem is, both you and conventional wisdom would be wrong.
Assume only that you need to scan as many of the carriers that fly to your destination as time permits. That's because contrary to what you might think, LCCs do not always corner the market on the low pricing. In fact, legacy carriers are price-competitive in many markets. Here are some other tips to keep in mind when fuel prices spike:
- RED EYE. Fares for off-peak travel such as traveling on Tuesday or Wednesday, and also early morning or late night flights, are typically lower.
- SECONDARIES. Look to secondary airports, such as Oakland instead of San Francisco or Ft. Lauderdale instead of Miami. You won't have the same selection of flights, but, because secondaries are often served by LCCs, you'll probably have cheaper choices.
- STOPOVERS. If you don't mind making another connection, you can often save — especially traveling from cities that don't have multiple major carriers.
- SMART UPGRADES. Book coach and, as part of your airline's frequent flier program, purchase upgrade certificates (if your travel program allows it). Certificates are a much cheaper way to upgrade to premium seating.
- BE AWARE. Travelers need to pay close attention to the changes being made by their carrier of choice. A route or flight available today may not be the same tomorrow. Travelers also need to be aware that many airlines have added fuel surcharges to their ticket prices in an effort to address their rising costs.
Traveling within your budget means staying flexible and shopping around.
FLEXIBILITY. Figure out what is most important to you in any given travel situation. Is it time? Convenience? Price? Services? Comfort? Flexibility is a priceless asset, because the more flexible you are, the more pricing options you'll be able to consider.
COMPARE. Suppliers may offer different rates via different outlets. You should check traditional travel agents, online travel sites, and supplier websites for the best deal.
DON'T PEAK! Avoid peak travel times of the year, whether flying or driving or even taking the train. Not only is traffic more congested (hence you'll burn more time and gas getting there), but prices for hotels and car rentals are higher, and availability limited. Fliers worry about the day before Thanksgiving, but they really need to take into account the flights afterward. School vacation weeks impact travel, too, as do regional holidays and events. Consider a Google search or check local listings for event conflicts.
TRAVEL AGENCIES. Agents are an overlooked avenue to smart buying, whether fuel prices are up or down. You can let the experts do what they do best by using travel agencies that specialize in important areas such as particular types of travel. For example, some agents are expert meeting planners or group travel bookers, while others are expert in geographical regions or cultures. The right agent can save you time, money, and hassles.
Prices are up, so finding affordable lodging can be a challenge; here's how:
- SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL. Depending on the level of business services you need, don't overlook small to mid-size hotels, or even bed and breakfasts. Many of these properties serve the basic needs of business travelers. And don't assume a premium brand gives you greater amenities. Example: Many mid-range hotels offer free Wi-Fi access, while many upscale brands offer only paid wired access to the Internet.
- SURF'S UP. Surf for sites that specialize in discount hotels in specific regions.
- PRIORITIZE. Beware of hidden fees. Booking a hotel online may give you a low price but also lock you in to a panoply of cancellation penalties. If you need flexibility, book directly with the hotel, where you can cancel at the last minute without a fee.
- FREQUENT FUELERS. When gas prices surged over the busy summer travel months, hotel properties big and small offered special gas rebate promotions. Some hotels may extend these offers — you can check online sites like FrequentDriverMiles.com — or when booking a room, ask the hotel if they still offer such a promotion.
Travel on the highway presents a host of options:
- GAS REBATES? Frequent fuelers also should check out credit cards that offer fuel rebates These have been offered by both fuel-company-affiliated credit cards and nonaffiliated cards as part of their loyalty programs. It pays to do the research.
- DO THE MATH. As gas prices rise, limo services and car services are becoming more price-competitive vs. taxi rides or car rentals. It depends where you are traveling. Don't automatically assume that rentals or taxis are cheaper. In markets like Orlando, where there are many car rental services, a rental might indeed be cheaper than a taxi. In a market like New York City, where some stiff taxi or rental fees apply, not to mention the pricy parking, airport shuttles are a good choice.
- MONITOR ONLINE. Check one of the many gasoline price watch websites that have popped up to track bargain buys in the areas you will be traveling.
- BUY SMART. Use regular unleaded fuel. Most cars do not need supreme brands. And try to fill up at a mom-and-pop station vs. the expensive one next to the expressway.
- DRIVE SMART. If using your own car, company car, or a rental, make sure that it is tuned up and tires are properly inflated. Drive the speed limit, avoid jackrabbit starts, and, perhaps most important, consolidate your trips wherever possible.
- REVISIT REIMBURSEMENT. Ask your company to revisit its mileage reimbursement policy. Many companies are raising their rates to reflect fuel price hikes.
- SCRUNCH UP. Give up a little leg room to rent a fuel-thrifty compact or sub-compact car, particularly for shorter trips.
GOING CORPORATE. If you're booking travel through your company, you can save big-time by taking advantage of negotiated corporate rates. These can be far lower than many published rates, depending on the amount of business your company does with specific travel suppliers. Also, as the traditional demarcation between business and leisure gets blurred, you'll want to see if special air, car, and/or hotel travel packages are available.
Smart travel in times of fluctuating fuel costs means looking at the bottom line. Ask yourself what the total cost of your trip really is. Then strategize the most economical ways to get there and back. Leave your options open. Don't assume any one travel mode is inherently better than any other. Weigh cost against convenience. If you are flexible, creative, and do your homework, you'll be able to find the services you need, the comfort you want, and the productivity you expect at the price you demand.